“You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To.”
Note: I’ve worked on this post off and on for more than two months since reading The Brain That Changes Itself in September.
Between the move across country and getting settled down in Tampa there’s been a lot of breaks. But this concept is so important I knew I had to finish it, even if it took a long time.
I hope you enjoy the final article below and find the concept of neuroplasticity as useful, life changing, and necessary as I have.
Not often in life do you come across something having the power to change your life for the better. It’s even less often that you realize it as you’re reading.
For me it takes weeks, months, or sometimes years for lessons to sink in and become something that has the potential to change my life.
But as I read The Brain That Changes Itself in September I knew I was on to something life changing.
The premise of The Brain That Changes Itself is the brain changes every time we do anything.
Anytime we read, listen, watch TV, slug around the house, learn something new, or practice anything. When we do things neurons in our brains improve the connections with whatever it is we’re doing.
The more you do something the easier it is. And the more you’ll understand how to improve things. But the inverse is also true. The longer we continue bad habits the harder they are to break.
This brings to mind the following quote from Warren Buffett:
If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit and change it to a better one you know this process is difficult. If you want any chance of success you need to put full focus into the new habit you’re trying to form. Or the old habit will stay in place
For more information on the Power of Habit go to this post.
But before we go further we need to go back…
I came across neuroplasticity some time ago. I’m not sure when. But I do remember thinking its potential was great enough to change the world and fortunes of millions of people if they knew about it.
Have you ever heard someone you care about – or maybe even your own inner hater – saying I’m not smart or good enough to do something? We all have. And it pains me to hear people say this.
I’ve always thought if people are passionate enough they can change their lives. Even if they have learning disabilities, they can change if they worked hard enough and spent enough time improving and learning.
Why did I think this?
- Reason #1: Because my parents raised me saying “You can do anything you put your mind too.” How literal this has turned out to be over time.
- And Reason #2: Because I’m proof it can happen.
My Extreme Dizziness
A couple years after my dizziness started I was at my worst physically.
I could do nothing but lay around watching TV because every time I moved my head even a tiny bit I felt terrible. Just the act of getting up and going to the fridge for something to eat made me so dizzy and nauseous that I couldn’t do anything the rest of the day.
This lasted for three years or so…
No doctor I went to ever found anything on the dozens of tests run. And most doctors were dismissive, treating me like I was faking.
At this point I had zero hope of getting better. I was resigned to feeling terrible all day, every day, for the rest of my life… And I was only 22 years old.
This didn’t change until my mom found an Occupational Therapist (OT) in Wyoming who gave me Vestibular Rehabilitation Exercises to do. These helped start retraining my brain to get rid of the dizziness.
Even though the OT flat out told me “You’re never going to be able to do all the things you did before,” this visit gave me hope for the first time in years. Hope that someday – in spite of her telling me I wouldn’t – that maybe I would get better.
Why? Because I’m a stubborn and persistent person who doesn’t like to being told they can’t do anything.
This visit and the exercises she gave me were my first introduction to neuroplasticity and the possibility of retraining the brain.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
Below is the definition of this life altering concept from Wikipedia.
Also known as brain plasticity, is an umbrella term that encompasses both synaptic plasticity and non-synaptic plasticity—it refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, and emotions – as well as to changes resulting from bodily injury.
So what does that mean?
Neuroplasticity is concept that the brain changes a little every time we read, write, listen, talk, or feel anything. The more we repeat things in a dedicated fashion the easier they will become. And the more we will know and understand what we’re doing.
The Science of Neuroplasticity
The wording in the video is important: “Repeated and Directed Change”.
This doesn’t mean multi tasking… Reading a book while watching TV. Or reading and searching the internet on your phone at the same time… Something my generation does a lot.
Repeated and directed change means intense and repeated focus on whatever it is you want to learn or do. For an extended period of time.
One of the examples in The Brain That Changes Itself talks about how after severe strokes some people lose the ability to talk, pick things up with one arm, or even move an arm altogether.
To retrain their brains some of these patients went through intense eight to ten hour days of forcible use of these abilities. Even going so far as practicing picking things up over and over again for eight to ten hours a day three days a week.
Progress was slow but over time patients who went through these brain retraining programs spoke better. They had better motor skills. And they could use their affected limbs again better than the others who didn’t do the training.
This happened even after many were told by doctors they would never talk or use their affected limbs again.
But I thought the brain was fixed like a machine and didn’t change? How is this possible?
The Brain Isn’t A Machine
I’m only 28 and even when I was going through school kids were separated by IQ tests that “proved” how smart someone was going to be their entire life. Kids with low IQ’s and learning disabilities went to special classes to “help” them.
The curse of low expectations – and the vicious cycle of getting called dumb all the time – led many of these kids to hate school. Some even dropped out.
The curse of high expectations went the other way too. Getting called smart all the time led many of the kids with high IQ’s to slack off and rely on their “gifts. Many didn’t work as hard as the “challenged” kids leading many of the “gifted” kids to not reach their potential.
Kids in the middle of the IQ range weren’t pushed to learn as much as possible. And were often an afterthought.
Hell, I even get told a version of this on a regular basis by people who email me…
An email I get on a semi regular basis goes something like this. “Even though I want to learn I’m not smart or young enough to learn about finance and investing.”
Well I’m here to prove to you today this isn’t true.
No matter what your IQ is. No matter if you’ve been told you’re dumb or slow. No matter how old you are. You can learn anything you want… If you’re willing to put enough time into it.
Even if you have only half a brain…
The Girl With Half A Brain
The Brain That Changes Itself wrote about a woman who was born with only half her brain. I couldn’t find the original video of her. I did find this article detailing here story here… But the video above shows similar results from the work of neuroplasticity.
Newer studies have confirmed that kids’ brains are more plastic – changing more and faster – than adults. Yet if adults work hard, concentrate, and practice a lot using deliberate practice methods, adult brains can change a lot too.
Just take a look at the two videos below for more proof.
“They Don’t Dare To Dream”
The Woman With Multiple Learning Disabilities Changes Her Brain
For more information on Barbara Arrowsmith-Young go to her website here.
I got chills watching this video.
While at my worst I wasn’t as bad off as the woman in this video. I still couldn’t do much for the last ten years without feeling terribly dizzy. And when I was at my worst I did fall.
Why Do We Fall?
I wish I could have seen this before my dizziness came… Because when I fell I didn’t even try to get back up for several years.
This story is outside the scope of this article. But my dizziness did get bad enough where I fell.
I was dumb enough to continue to work 20+ hours a week while going to school half the day during my senior year. And still run track as well. Like I told you, I’m stubborn and persistent.
Some people may even call what I was doing dumb – I was a moron then – because I harmed myself even more by pushing so hard.
I finally gave up and didn’t do anything for almost three years in my late teens and early 20s. That is until my mom found out about the occupational therapist mentioned before.
Over the last decade I saw dozens of doctors. They ran hundreds of tests. And did many other things that helped further retrain my brain and balance centers that put me on the path towards full recovery.
I finally completed this after 10 long years in May 2014 when I found a new neurologist who gave me medication that allows me to do almost everything I want, outside of running, working out hard, and working myself to exhaustion.
So yes, while the occupational therapist was technically right in saying I wouldn’t ever be “normal” again, I can do almost everything I want. And most important to me is I can now function as a working adult for my wife and daughters And play with them as they grow.
This is neuroplasticity in action… Although I didn’t even know what this was until about a year ago.
Without the brains potential to change and retrain itself I wouldn’t be doing anything I’m doing today. And I may well have completed the dark thoughts I talked about in 17 Things That Changed My Life – Some Saved It.
If I can become what I have so far with all the disadvantages I have, imagine what you can do with your college degrees. Not to mention the time advantages you’ll have of not losing 10 years of your life.
You too can change your brain – and life – with the knowledge of neuroplasticity. For further reading please read the information below. And definitely read The Brain That Changed Itself linked throughout this article.
It turns out that my parents were right all along: “You really can become and do whatever you put your mind to.” Even with only half a brain. So what’s your excuse to not work towards your goals now?
More In Depth Information
If you’d like more information on the power to change your brain go to the following places.
And last up are some Tweets I sent about The Brain That Changes Itself…
Jason Rivera @Jmriv1986 Sep 7
From the book The Brain That Changes Itself #Neuroplasticity#ThePowerofHabit
Jason Rivera @Jmriv1986 Sep 6
“The brain isn’t an inanimate vessel that we fill rather it’s more like a living creature with an appetite. One that can grow and (1/2)
Jason Rivera @Jmriv1986 Sep 6
change itself with proper nourishment and exercise.” Michael Mezenich from The Brain That Changes Itself #Neuroplasticity (2/2)
Do you have any experience with the power of neuroplasticity? If so please let me know in the comments below.
Until next time… Keep Improving.
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